60s Psychedelic Rock Hits You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

It’s time to take a trip back to the 1960s with some of the best psychedelic rock hits that you need to know. From The Beatles to The Doors, sit back and enjoy some of the best music from one of the most iconic decades.

The Beatles – “A Day in the Life” (1967)

“A Day in the Life” is the final track on The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song is notable for its innovative use of instrumentation (including orchestral instruments and sound effects), time signature changes, and lyrical content. It is considered one of The Beatles’ best songs, and was ranked #1 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations” (1966)

Few songs from the 1960s psychedelic era are as well-known – or as beloved – as The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” The track, which was released in 1966, is widely considered to be one of the first (and best) examples of the genre. It’s also one of the few psychedelic songs to achieve mainstream success, thanks in part to its catchy melody and infectiously positive lyrics.

The Doors – “Light My Fire” (1967)

The Doors’ debut album, The Doors, is full of psychedelic rock hits, but “Light My Fire” is undoubtedly the most well-known. The track was written by guitarist Robby Krieger and singer Jim Morrison, and it quickly rose to the top of the charts, staying at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Jimi Hendrix – “Purple Haze” (1967)

“Purple Haze” was one of the first Hendrix songs to gain widespread attention, and it quickly became a signature tune for the young guitarist. The song’s distinctive sound was achieved by Hendrix’s innovative use of feedback and distortion. “Purple Haze” is considered a classic of psychedelic rock and is one of Hendrix’s best-known songs.

Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love” (1967)

One of the quintessential psychedelia hits of the 60s, “Somebody to Love” was written by Darby Slick – the brother-in-law of Grace Slick, who sings lead vocals on the track. It’s a song about searching for meaning and companionship, with GraceSlick’s powerful vocal performance conveying a yearning that is both desperate and hopeful. The track features sterling musicianship from the entire band, with Jorma Kaukonen’s searing guitar work particularly noteworthy.

The Kinks – “You Really Got Me” (1964)

The Kinks’ debut single is also one of their best, a two-and-a-half minute blast of proto-punk that would go on to become one of the most influential rock songs of all time. The two guitar parts – one played by Ray Davies, the other by his brother Dave – weave in and out of each other, propelling the song forward with a remarkably assured sense of musicianship for a band that was, at the time, barely out of their teens. It’s a perfect example of the power of simplicity in rock music, and its influence can be heard in everyone from the Sex Pistols to Van Halen.

Love – “Alone Again Or” (1967)

Love was one of the most underrated rock bands of the 60s. Theirleader Arthur Lee wrote some of the era’s most memorable songs,and their best album, Forever Changes (1967), is often cited as oneof the greatest records of all time. “Alone Again Or” is one of thehighlights from that record, a beautiful, elegiac ballad thatutilizes a string arrangement by legendary producer/arrangerDavid Axelrod.

The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreamin’” (1965)

California Dreamin’ was originally written by The Mamas & the Papas singer John Phillips in 1963, while he was living in New York City. The song was inspired by a dream he had while homesick for California. The Mamas & the Papas recorded the song in 1965, and it quickly became a defining track of the early “summer of love” movement. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, but the original recording by The Mamas & the Papas remains the most well-known version.

The Moody Blues – “Nights in White Satin” (1967)

Formed in Birmingham, England, in 1964, The Moody Blues helped pioneer the musical genre known as psychedelic rock. “Nights in White Satin” is one of the band’s most famous and enduring hits, and its sound is indicative of the classic psychedelic rock style. The song features a combination of electric and acoustic instrumentation, including a theremin (an early electronic instrument), which gives the track its otherworldly atmosphere. Lyrically, the song is somewhat enigmatic, but it seems to be about the beauty of nighttime and the feeling of being “lost in a dream.”

Procol Harum – “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (1967)

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” is a song by the British rock band Procol Harum. It was released as the A-side of their debut single on 12 May 1967 and included on their debut album Procol Harum. Written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, the song is credited as being based on two 20th-century works: Conrad’s novel Nostromo and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846, from his Well-Tempered Clavier.

The song reached number 1 in several countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada, and has been covered by many artists. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 57 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and in 2006 it was voted No. 43 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 of All Time countdown.

The Rolling Stones – “Paint It, Black” (1966)

The Rolling Stones – “Paint It, Black” (1966)
The first single from the Stones’ classic album Aftermath, “Paint It, Black” is one of the darkest and most atmospheric songs the band ever recorded. The song’s distinctive sitar riff was played by Brian Jones, and according to Keith Richards, the rest of the band was so impressed with Jones’ performance that they decided to let him play the instrument on the entire track.

The Who – “I Can See for Miles” (1967)

Released in 1967 on the concept album, The Who Sell Out, “I Can See for Miles” was the first single by The Who to break into the US Top 10, peaking at #9. Roger Daltrey’s powerful vocal performance and Pete Townshend’s propulsive guitar playing make this one of the band’s most timeless tracks.

The Zombies – “She’s Not There” (1964)

The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” was one of the first mainstream hits of the psychedelic era, reaching #2 on the UK charts and #12 in the US. The song’s success helped pave the way for other British Invasion bands to experiment with more experimental sounds and structures.

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